Nunavut char a hit in U.S. restaurants

Arctic Char from a small Nunavut fishery has caught the attention of upscale restaurants across North America, with restaurateurs and customers willing to pay top dollar for the all-natural protein. The popularity of wild Arctic Char has led to a jump in sales for Cambridge Bay-based Kitikmeot Foods, from slightly less than $450,000 in 2008 to about $600,000 in 2009, according to recently released figures from the Nunavut Development Corporation.

The heightened sales are partly attributed to CleanFish, a San Francisco-based company that links sustainable fisheries with some prestigious U.S. restaurants and retailers. CleanFish co-founder Dale Sims told CBC News that he was struck by the Arctic Char that the Nunavut Development Corporation — the Nunavut Crown entity that owns Kitikmeot Foods — had on display at the 2008 Boston Seafood Show.

"I spotted this fish from about 30 or 40 feet away," Sims said. "I simply felt that if the best chefs in America could see Nunavut char, that they would have the same reaction that I had." Sims said his char sales tripled this past year, rising to about $10 a pound, and he expects sales to keep growing this year. "We had that fish on menus in Chicago, San Francisco, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta," he said.

Nunavut Development Corporation president, Darren Nichol, told CBC News that Kitikmeot Foods is a well-managed exporter of fish. However, Nichol said the fishery's success depends on uncontrollable factors such as weather, fish and caribou migrations.

Also on the rise this past year are turbot sales from Pangnirtung Fisheries, another Nunavut Development Corporation subsidiary based on Baffin Island. The corporation's figures show 2009 sales there topped out at slightly less than $3 million, up from about $260,000 in 2008. Nichol said the Nunavut Development Corporation owns 51 per cent of Pangnirtung Fisheries, but it might pull out its subsidy and let the plant stand on its own.

"Pangnirtung Fisheries has the ability, we think, with our partner Cumberland Sound Fisheries, to maybe take the next step and assert itself as a standalone entity operating within that sector," he said. Nichol said more work still has to be done before that happens, but he added that the Pangnirtung fishery could be well-positioned in the coming years by an increased turbot fishing quota. In November, the federal Department of Fisheries and Oceans raised the turbot quota for Nunavut fishermen in Davis Strait and Baffin Bay by 1,500 tonnes.

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